Barry Anderson: Mask. Continuum CCD 1008

Barry Anderson: Mask (Mask. Two Songs Penyeach. Sound the Tucket Sonance… And the Note to Mount. Colla Voce). Continuum CCD 1008 (1989), no barcode

Note: Listed on under barcode 803507636730 (distributor’s barcode)

Anderson Mask

Anderson Mask back







Track listing:
1. Mask: Kathryn Lukas (flutes), Simon Limbrick & Martin Allen (percussion), Ian Dearden & Javier Alvarez (sound projection), Peter Harlowe (speaker), cond. Stephen Montague
2-3. Two Songs Penyeach: Simples, On the Beach at Fontana: Jane Manning (soprano), Geoffrey Grey (violin), Murray Khouri (bass clarinet), Ian Dearden (percussion)
4. Sound the Tucket Sonance… And the Note to Mount: Bennny Sluchin (trombone), Stephen Montague (sound projection)
5. Colla Voce: Jane Manning

A memento of a pioneer of IRCAM’s electronic music
16 August 2016

To put it bluntly: Barry Anderson, born in 1935 in New Zealand, is the guy who created, at IRCAM, Boulez’ electronic studio in Paris, all the electronics for Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus, didn’t get recognition – and first from the composer himself – for his work and for what he saw as his co-authorship, and then, when his recognition as a composer was about to happen (IRCAM having commissioned a piece), died (a few hours after the premiere of the work, Arc, on 27th May 1987), for causes that may include exhaustion from the work done for Birtwistle. What’s left of him is not even an entry on Wikipedia, just this and a companion CD,  “Arc and Other Electronic Works“, published by Continuum in 1989 and a fine tribute masterminded by composer Stephen Montague (who was an associate of Anderson from 1975 to his death, and is a fine composer in his own right).

Mask, originally composed in 1976 and extensively revised until 1985, is a large-scale piece, for flutes (played by one flautist), percussion, speaker and tape. In the course of its 40 minutes, one hears flutes fluting in shamanistic dances and percussion interjecting over what is mostly a carpet of rumbling electronic sounds often souding like distant thunder, distant sea, distant space or the voice of one’s repressed anxieties. After 30 minutes, the speaker comes in and lectures for four minutes on the functions of the Mask (“It portrays. Reveals”). There’s atmosphere in the piece, and there’s a certain entrancing effect to its atmospheric 40 minutes, although I find that the tape part often sounds like mere filling, and one wonders if 40 minutes isn’t too much for what the piece has to say – or maybe it’s not enough, and the piece should have run three hours. But to have reduced what one imagines was the environing sounds and visual experience of the piece played live to the two dimensions of the music on a CD probably works to its detriment.

But I prefer the 10 minutes of “Sound the Tucket Sonance… And the Note to Mount” (titled after a line of Shakespeare in Henry V) for trombone and tape, from 1980, because there is more sonic invention and unpredictability in both the tape and the trombone, which often sounds like electronic sounds, so here the dialogue of both “instruments” works very well.

Before coming to electronics and to his own, Anderson was under the influence of Stockhausen. It shows in the two angular Songs Penyeach (1971), a setting of two poems of Joyce for soprano, violin, clarinet and percussion that obviously doesn’t aim for melodic beauty (a piece of cake for the seasoned listener of contemporary music, but a repellent for others), and Colla Voce (1978), a piece for solo voice in the style of Berio’s Sequenza for voice – no intellegible phrases, just shards of words, phonemes, gurgles. It’s fun and virtuosic, if you find Berio’s Sequenza fun and virtuosic.

TT 72 minutes. Composers die but, fortunately, CDs outlive them to play the role of sonic photographies, to not entirely forget. But Arc, the companion CD, may be a better introduction to the music of Anderson, I find the electronics overall more inventive there.

Additional Info:
Reviews in Fanfare March 1990 and The Gramophone July 1990

On the inception of Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus:
Excerpts from David Beard, Kenneth Gloag & Nicholas Jones’ “Harrison Birtwistle Studies

Carl Faia: “Collaborative Computer Music Composition and the Emergence of the  Computer Music Designer“, PhD dissertation, Brunel University London, search on Anderson and see chapter 5 “Conclusions”

Comments are welcome